• Black Powder typically burns (deflagrates) rather than detonates like Smokeless Powder
  • Smokeless Powder reacts at much higher pressures than Black Powder
  • Black Powder byproducts attract water and promote corrosion whereas Smokeless Powder usually includes additives to inhibit corrosion.
  • Black Powder is actually a powder whereas Smokeless Powder is normally pelletized extrusions.
  • The solid wastes from Black Powder makes the smoke.
  • Smokeless Powder isn’t completely smokeless.
  • Black Powder and Smokeless Powder are NOT interchangeable.


The propellant formulations may contain various energetic and auxiliary components:


  • Nitrocellulose, an energetic component of most smokeless propellants
  • Nitroglycerin, an energetic component of double-base and triple-base formulations
  • Nitroguanidine, a component of triple-base formulations
  • DINA (bis-nitroxyethylnitramine)
  • Fivonite (tetramethylolcyclopentanone tetranitrate)
  • DGN (di-ethylene glycol dinitrate)
  • Acetyl cellulose

Deterrents, (or moderants), to slow the burning rate:

  • Centralites (symmetrical diphenyl urea—primarily diethyl or dimethyl)
  • Dibutyl phthalate
  • Dinitrotoluene (toxic, carcinogenic, and obsolete)
  • Akardite (asymmetrical diphenyl urea)
  • ortho-tolyl urethane
  • Polyester adipate
  • Camphor (obsolete)
  • Stabilizers, to prevent or slow down self-decomposition
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • beta-naphthol methyl ether
  • Amyl alcohol (obsolete)
  • Aniline (obsolete)

Decoppering additives, to hinder the buildup of copper residues from the gun barrel rifling:

  • Tin metal and compounds (e.g., tin dioxide)
  • Bismuth metal and compounds (e.g., bismuth trioxide, bismuth subcarbonate, bismuth nitrate,
  • bismuth antimonide); the bismuth compounds are favored as copper dissolves in molten bismuth, forming brittle and easily removable alloy
  • Lead foil and lead compounds, phased out due to toxicity

Flash reducers, to reduce the brightness of the muzzle flash (all have a disadvantage: the production of smoke):

  • Potassium chloride
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Potassium sulfate
  • Potassium hydrogen tartarate (a byproduct of wine production formerly used by French artillery)

Wear reduction additives, to lower the wear of the gun barrel liners:

  • Wax
  • Talc
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Polyurethane jackets over the powder bags, in large guns
  • Other additives
  • Ethyl acetate, a solvent for manufacture of spherical powder
  • Rosin, a surfactant to hold the grain shape of spherical powder
  • Graphite, a lubricant to cover the grains and prevent them from sticking together, and to dissipate static electricity

There are three categories of smokeless powder:

Single-Base Powder: Propellants using nitrocellulose (detonation velocity 7,300 m/s (23,950 ft/s)) (typically an ether-alcohol colloid of nitrocellulose) as the sole explosive propellant ingredient.

Double-Base Powder: Propellants mixtures containing nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin (detonation velocity 7,700 m/s (25,260 ft/s)) as explosive propellant ingredients.

Triple-Base Powder:  Contains nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, and a substantial quantity of nitroguanidine (detonation velocity 8,200 m/s (26,900 ft/s)) as explosive propellants.

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